Representations of Place in the Human Brain
Cartographers have been representing places and scenes for thousands of years. We know that there is not one single way to represent place. We can use a reference map, thematic map (not to mention all the different types), large scale, small scale, oblique and overhead remotely sensed image, hand-drawn cartoon maps, street view photographs, animated maps, and digital maps. We also know that the methods and then the resulting representations can be differentiated cartographically using established criteria. But, are these methods all equally effective in conveying a sense of place?We measure “effectiveness” by comparing activation differences in the parahippocampal place area when viewing different representations of place. The parahippocampal place area (PPA) is a region in the human brain that allows humans to recognize and characterize a place (or a representation of it) (Weiner et al., in press). The PPA is a functionally, as opposed to an anatomically, defined region. It overlaps several anatomical regions, including the parahippocampal cortex, the lingual gyrus, the collateral sulcus, and the fusiform gyrus (Figure 1) (Epstein, 2014). The place recognition function of the PPA has been well-documented (Weiner et al., in press; Epstein 2014, 2008; Baldassano et al. 2013; Aguirre et al., 1998; Epstein and Kanwisher, 1998), and we now know that this region is what allows humans to differentiate between a place and other objects such as faces, chairs, or apples.In this study, we measured the effect of cartographic representation on the human brain’s recognition of “place” by comparing the activation differences in the PPA. We compared four types of place representation: a street-view photograph of an urban environment, a drawn schematic similar to a subway-style map, a Google Maps street map, and a Google Maps satellite view. (Figure 2). The Google Maps images were used because they are common cartographic representations, and thus are likely representative of a general “map” condition.